After a hard day of laboring through the grease and grim at your pitiful factory job, you come home and meeting you at the door is a 77 year old desert tortoise. You reach down to stroke the turtle, and it retracts its head into its shell because it wants nothing to do with you, starting to feel threatened it snaps at your fingers. Youngsters and adults typically adore animals and especially loves turtles are not what Kay was trying to convey in this piece. She wanted to use an animal that most people would not, or could not relate too.
It depicts a harsh reality to a mundane occurrence. Ryan portrays a turtle using metaphors, rhyming, personification, assonance and imagery to relate that the human daily grind Of humanity is no different than any chelonian. As the reader you are being baited into thinking, "What is she thinking? Is there a human being in this world that would want to live the life of a turtle? " It remains still hibernating in a rocky self-dug hole for long periods of time without any contact to the outside world only to emerge to a cruel and unforgiving reality.
Eating grass and trying to avoid a speeding teenager riving on a country road, or a starving alligator seems like a life of misery. She goes on and likens the turtle to something cumbersome that can barely get out of its own way. "A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet," Dinner rolls are made to be enjoyed while warm, soft and freshly from the oven, but this roll is hard and not consumable. A meal that the majority would not choose if given the chance, but ingest if absolutely necessary is what a crusty dinner roll represents.
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It brings to mind rowing a boat with three other people in rough water, just trying to make ground in the choppy sea. Turtles have extremely hard outer shells and have serious problems with locomotion, and Ryan uses these metaphors in the first few lines which portrays a seriously immobile, clumsy loggerhead. Ryan shows us right away that being a turtle IS not like Franklin the Turtle, a character in the Franklin picture book series by Paulette Bourgeois who goes to school and eats sandwiches that his mom makes, or plays outside without care with his friends.
This turtle does not go to school, or receive an education like Franklin. The reader can start to identify with the turtle as Ryan gives the animal ender and makes you start to feel for her and the chances the turtle must take to eat. Ryan gives the turtle not a name, but describes it as "her". The female or egg laying half of the turtle race who not only has to find food through any means possible, but carry the future while doing so. This responsibility was not by her own choice, it was handed down to her by nature.
Gathering food is not something civilized people do on a regular basis; they simple order while resting comfortably in their air conditioned vehicle while listening to their favorite AC/DC soundtrack. On the other hand, he turtle is dangerously rowing with its four stubby legs towards its meager reward of grass. She is moving so slow and deliberately that any number of creatures could easily stop her quest for nourishment. Ryan pens the word rowing, but turtles cannot row.
Those slow, deliberate strokes symbolize just how hard any movement is for this leatherback just to find sustenance. Ryan describes a turtle that is not interested in becoming more than just a subpar being dragging its inconvenient shell, trying to eat and not perish doing so. Her turtle is "below luck level" and could never imagine winning the lottery" or any other prize that would change her "pottery" or shell in to wings that would enhance her life immensely. People dream of hitting the jack pot and spending their fortunes, but not this turtle, it is a realist.
Ryan uses rhyming with "lottery and pottery' to bring attention just how far away this turtle is from anything great, and the turtle knows that it will be nothing but a turtle living a life of just getting through the next meal. Ryan compares the turtle to an axled vehicle getting stuck almost on a regular basis. Images of an 18 wheeled tractor-trailer, perched on top of raffiti covered concrete K-rail on the side of the freeway come to mind. There will not be a tow truck coming to save this turtle's day, it must fend for itself.
The turtle, precariously wedged on the slant of an oversized stone, using gravity to start a rocking motion to hopefully free itself, hoping that its efforts will not upright her and exposed a soft delectable under belly. One definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. The manager who urgently escapes his workplace at the whistle every day because that is when the work day is done, and then complains he did ot receive his bonus based on effort or lack thereof shows insanity. The turtle is not a truck, a train or even a boat, but Ryan uses personification in reverse to relate these things.
Our turtle is avoiding things that would make it more difficult to survive, just as a man working in a belt factory would not raise his hand to show interest in becoming a supervisor. Raised hands mean additional labor and nonexistent satisfaction. The unneeded stress of the responsibilities would surely crush the factory worker and his family would undeniably suffer dire consequences. "Almost any slope" would defeat the pace of any turtle from finding some grass to eat. The turtle 'Skirts the ditch which would convert' her into turtle tar-tar for any mangy animal that happens to be passing through.
Ryan uses assonance to convey that the turtle might be slow, but through experience as learned to avoid hazards just like the belt factory worker. Eating your favorite dish, or remembering that when as a child you saw your mother start to prepare for baking Christmas cookies brings you back to that place and time. It is a perfect picture in your mind, even though some cookies were not perfect you still remember the image without flaws and imperfections. The author uses imagery of the turtle turning her shell into a serving dish, upside down and vulnerable.
Once the turtle is on its shell, it becomes more than just a helpless creature; it becomes lunch, or even a buffet for all to share. After an alligator snaps the turtle in half and partakes in the majority of the supple meat, other smaller creatures stop by to pick through the steamy entrails and leftover pieces its elongated snout prevents it from eating. It is imperative to understand what Ryan means by not being able to change her "pottery to wings" and know that this turtle cannot be anything else, but a mindless creature doing the same thing every day just to survive.
Our friend the turtle was merely trying to eat, and not be eaten. Millions of people rise without the shine and go through the same mundane routines even before leaving their residence. The same monotonous lifestyle or career shapes society and teaches the masses to just place one foot in front of the other. A homeless man wakes every day from a restless few hours of sleep to instantly onder if he is in imminent danger. He struggles to his feet, and starts a plan of action, not unlike to his previous eleven years.
Prison would be an easier life. The middle aged soccer mom takes the same steps every day starting at the gymand then to daycare before racing to work to avoid the penalties of being late. They both rarely venture outside of their comfort zone. The homeless man knows what small, slow steps he must take to survive for that moment, and the soccer mom thinks of multiple projects and lists she must complete to provide for herself. In either case, both are going through the ame daily steps and in survival mode to reach the next marker in their life.
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